Newcastle turn focus to Premier League following exit from Europa League
Magpies drew with Benfica last night
Friday 12 April 2013
Alan Pardew has challenged Newcastle to secure a top-10 Barclays Premier League finish after seeing their European dreams end in dramatic style.
The Magpies led Benfica 1-0 heading into stoppage time at St James' Park, knowing a second goal would take them through to the Europa League semi-finals.
However, as they made their final push, Eduardo Salvio finally edged the Portuguese league leaders through 4-2 on aggregate with a 92nd-minute close-range strike.
Pardew's men have little time to dust themselves down ahead of Sunday's derby clash with arch-rivals Sunderland, but the manager is hoping victory in that fixture can provide the platform for his team to ease themselves into the top half of the table by the end of a trying campaign.
He said: "Our next target after going out tonight is to try to secure a top-10 finish if we can.
"With all the injuries we have had and the credible performance we have put in in Europe, I would have to take that as a real learning curve for us in terms of the injuries we have sustained.
"The next time we go into Europe, we need to be better prepared than we were at the start of this season.
"You have to put into context what we are. The financial restrictions we have are so much greater than the top clubs in this country.
"But that doesn't mean to say we can't win something and we are going to try to achieve that and over-achieve like we did last year.
"It's fair to say this year, we haven't over-achieved mainly because of the injuries we have sustained and this European programme.
"Our league form has been really affected but we have grown into it and the experience will stand us in good stead for the future."
Benfica arrived on Tyneside holding a 3-1 first leg lead and determined to kill the tie off as quickly as possible, but were denied by keeper Tim Krul and full-back Massadio Haidara before the break.
But it was Newcastle who made the running in the second half and when Papiss Cisse, who had earlier seen two efforts cancelled out by offside flags, headed home his fifth goal in seven games with 19 minutes remaining, Tyneside gathered itself for a grandstand finish.
Substitute Hatem Ben Arfa fired over the top from perhaps their best chance and Salvio took full advantage of the escape to level two minutes into stoppage time.
Pardew said: "Players, trust me, they know when they have played well and they have given a really good account of themselves.
"They are disappointed they haven't won, like if they played Scrabble against their kids, they want to beat their kids and they would be a bit disappointed if the kids beat them.
"They will soon get over it. By tomorrow, hopefully, we will get that out of the way and get ourselves prepared for Sunday."
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